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posted: 9/20/2012 6:00 AM

'Dredd' a fast-paced work of sci-fi violence

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  • Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) kicks down a door with help from his psychic assistant (Olivia Thirlby) in the science-fiction action thriller "Dredd 3-D."

    Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) kicks down a door with help from his psychic assistant (Olivia Thirlby) in the science-fiction action thriller "Dredd 3-D."

  • Video: Dredd 3-D trailer


I liked this movie better when it came out earlier this year as "The Raid: Redemption," and featured a bloody, psycho-paced tale about trapped cops struggling to stay alive in a high rise.

If I hadn't seen Gareth Evans' Indonesian thriller "The Raid" before, I probably would have been more impressed with Pete Travis' science-faction (a combo of sci-fi and action) "Dredd 3D," a reboot of Sylvester Stallone's disappointing 1995 movie "Judge Dredd."

"Dredd 3D" can't match the fantastic stunts, frenetic pace, fluid fight choreography and (slightly) more complex plot of "The Raid."

Nonetheless, "Dredd 3D" has a lot to offer fans of sheer action movies. Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland wisely refused to water down the full-throttle, fascistic elements of the Dredd comic books for the sake of a market-friendly PG-13 rating.

This film earns its hard-R with scenes of such graphic violence (often displayed in three-dimensional slow motion) that it would have surely earned an adults-only X-rating several years ago.

"Dredd 3D" dumps the genre's lame attempts at comedic quips, and dispenses entirely with the obligatory romantic subplot. This leaves a lean, clean survival tale that makes "The Hunger Games" look like a Disney made-for-kids cable movie.

Set in the near future after wars have forced vast populations into cramped metropolitan slums, "Dredd 3D" takes place in the totalitarian community of Mega City One where Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) keeps order by simultaneously acting as investigating officer, judge, jury and executioner.

When three homicides occur at a 200-story high-rise, Dredd goes to investigate with Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a failing judge candidate gifted with the psychic ability to read minds. (Or not, as it works out for the plot.)

Cassandra and Dredd arrest a suspect named Kay (Wood Harris), who could be a key witness against Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a clearly insane prostitute-turned-crime-queen who floods Mega One with Slo-Mo, a potent drug that causes users to experience reality in extremely slow motion.

Ma-Ma orders the high-rise closed and her minions to kill Dredd and Cassandra.

Dredd and Cassandra leap from one violent confrontation to another, captured by Anthony Dod Mantle's saturated 3-D widescreen visuals that become Peckinpah-esque homages whenever characters take a hit of Slo-Mo. (These are mesmerizing images sadly undermined when Travis over-employs them.)

Dredd is a tough nut to crack dramatically, because we never see his face, only Urban's chin. (Hey! Where's Bruce Campbell when you need him?)

Despite Urban's dedication and extensive training for the role, his Dredd comes off like Peter Weller's RoboCop speaking with Christian Bale's mechanical Batman voice.

"Dredd 3D" is further eroded by action movie dumbness, such as "the hero outrunning machine gun bullets" cliché. Dredd becomes the only person on the entire floor fast enough to dodge fire from threegiant machine guns blasting away.

Thirlby, given the thankless job of filling in the emotional holes left by Dredd's robotic personality, puts her appealing presence to good use. But if she can read minds, why didn't she hear Kay thinking: "Wow, I've gotten out of my bonds and now I'm going to kill these two doofuses!"?

"Dredd" also commits a key foreshadowing error when the judge opts to use his sidearm to stun two twenty-something attackers. Later, during a climactic confrontation with Ma-Ma, Dredd apparently forgets he has that option.

Hey, he would never survive in "The Raid: Redemption." He's way too slow.

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